One Bradenton racecar driver hopes to find as much success with a checkered bottle as she does chasing a checkered flag. Laura Jean, a 21-year-old who has been racing stock cars in the region for years, started brewing her own sweet tea to bring to the track on weekends. When the demand for the beverage started to climb, she and her father, Joseph Mammina, decided to sell the stuff. “We started doing fall festivals, selling it by the cup,” Laura Jean says. The family founded the Southern Sweet Tea Company and sold the drink on tap for a year at places like the Bradenton Blues Festival before deciding to start bottling the product. Joseph designed a red-checkered label to evoke a country feel, and the family decided on a recipe that made tea sweet enough to satisfy Laura Jean but not too sugary for Joseph.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

Laura Jean sensed a market demand for a classic bottled tea more like what you sip at a country diner instead of the green tea products filling most freezers. The family found a code packer in Sarasota and within three months sold through two runs of 60,000 bottles. Right now, you can find the tea in Lucky’s Market and Bravo Supermarket locations, along with gas stations and convenience stores throughout the region. And the company may go big time with a possible deal at Walmart, potentially its first corporate vendor.  The North Port High grad still drives her 1996 Chevy Cavalier at the 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda and other tracks around the state. And now, the car’s main sponsor decal advertises Southern Sweet Tea.